What to do about Somalia

Beats hell out of me.  First, it’s not clear that there really is a Somalia — the CIA World Factbook identifies the Republic of Somaliland and a self-declared autonomous state of Puntland as making strides towards legitimate, representative government.  New states, in other words.

Second, the only reasons most Americans care at all about Somalia, other than those with relatives in the area, are 1) pirates, and 2) terrorists.  Pirates are the current news filler nowadays, so lets look at terrorists.

As former FBI manager Ali Soufan explained in an article in the Wall St. J. last week, there are groups in Somalia whose leaders had received some level of training by al-Qa’ida.  Presumably that training ended more than seven years ago, so any success these groups have achieved recently have been through their own efforts.

The important question is what we do next. Soufan engages in the usual recipe that is notable for not having worked anywhere on the surface of the planet:

A comprehensive international diplomatic push to stabilize Somalia is crucial. In the meantime, the U.S. has to put in place a regional strategy that encompasses diplomatic, economic, intelligence, law-enforcement and military initiatives aimed at weakening the terrorists and enhancing living conditions for civilians.

The plan may include covert actions against al Shabab leaders and camps; apprehension and prosecution of wanted operatives; increasing aid to the president and his allies if they are determined to be trustworthy; increasing aid to Kenya to help it better police its borders; and an effort to bring neighboring Eritrea and Ethiopia on board.

Tom Barnett is ready to unleash AFRICOM on the territory:

Think AFRICOM won’t be important over the long haul?

Think again.

Unfortunately, Tom doesn’t explain what AFRICOM is going to do.  Put Somalia back together?  That would solve the problem, if only we knew how to do it.  The last group that tried, the Ethiopians, are scurrying back across the border even as we speak.

Throw a ton of money at the place?  Can you spell “corruption”?

It’s tempting to think that we should just put a strongman in control — there were no pirates or terrorists in Iraq under Saddam — but this is a form of mental weakness on our part.  Most caudillos quickly become corrupt, leaving their countries in even worse shape.  What’s important is that the people of that region evolve the type of government(s) that will suit them, and it’s not our job to try to do it for them.

All I can think of is that we work with the proto-states of Somaliland and Puntland however we can.  This won’t be easy, as our experience in much of the Balkans (which are, culturally, vastly closer to us than are Somali societies) indicates.  As for the rest of the country, we need to cooperate with and develop any sources of stability we can find.  It’s worth warning, again, that this is a very difficult game to play because once money starts to flow, jockeying for support by folks claiming to represent this or that constituency will be frenetic.  [Check out Tom Wolfe’s classic Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers for a description of how this works, and that in our own country.]

So we need to develop some level of expertise in dealing with the region, and perhaps that’s what Tom means when he invokes AFRICOM, which bills itself as “a different kind of command,” although still a command of the Department of Defense headed by a four-star general.  What we must avoid at all costs, though, is another large-scale occupation of a foreign country in an attempt to remake it into whatever image we think is appropriate.

And it would also help if we quit acting scared to death of a few criminals with a religious veneer ensconced in a poverty-ridden “country” some 8,000 miles away.  Terrorists are going to strike us again — there’s no way to prevent it — but in the meantime, just to put the threat into perspective, we lose more than 3,000 people to traffic accidents and 1,500 to homicides every month.

If you legitimately want to scare yourself, you might pick a real threat, like the one Fabius Maximus identifies in his blog today.

Comments are welcome; please observe our comment policy.

Be Sociable, Share!

Filed in Uncategorized | 5 responses so far

5 Responses to “What to do about Somalia”

  1. Maxon 21 Apr 2009 at 5:30 am 1


    What a mess.

    The self appointed “World COP” is still tied down in Iraq,
    Afganistan, now Pakistan and Warzistan.

    Has designs on Iran.

    What’s to stop Alquida or any mal-contents from shifting their operations elsewhere, they are afterall a lot lighter and more mobile
    than we.

    Yeah, this GWOT will be a job for life, not just for our kids,
    but theirs.

    All well and good perhaps if you have no other options for gamefull employment, But ask yourself this, where’s the money going to come from ?

    Maybe the USA should tax other countries,,,?

    There’s an idea, and if hey refuse we can invade and occupy those

    But where’s THAT money going to come from ?


  2. Duncan C Kinderon 21 Apr 2009 at 9:29 am 2

    “Maybe the USA should tax other countries,,,?”

    We tried to do that, and it didn’t work.

    To refresh your memory, despite explicit, vociferous, and widespread protests prior to the Iraq War, the United States invaded anyway, presenting the world with a fait accompli.

    Following this, as you may recall, we went about demanding that the Europeans and other pitch in – as if it were their duty to follow our lead wherever we might go. There was even talk of “punishing the French,” and so forth.

    Well, the rest of the world balked, as a result of which we remain in Iraq to this very day. And most observers agree that such support as we get in places like Afghanistan is token.

  3. Sgt Oblaton 22 Apr 2009 at 2:31 am 3

    >Beats hell out of me.

    The confusion is only in the minds of Americans because they refuse to call a spade a spade.

    What is going on is good old fashioned imperialism. The idea that the Empire has a right and even duty to mess with other countries, to manage them and even to bring them “civilization”.

    And the results are the same multitude of nationalist movements formed around existing religious and ideological nuclei to resist and push out the imperialists.

    Americans on terrorism are little different to Victorian ladies fainting on hearing a bulletin of a defeat to the fuzzy-wuzzies.

    So what is to be done – nothing is to be done, when you choose to run an empire you have to pay the price in cash and lives.

    The smart countries have moved on from the 19th century and realize that an Empire is a stupid idea. Firstly it has become economically unfeasible since the industrial revolution. Secondly it is politically and socially debilitating. Everything gets focused on a desperate and futile attempt to maintaining the status quo, as the world changes. Even the British Empire realized this at the end.

    The US Empire isn’t even a very good one – Americans refuse to go out and colonize anywhere but the walled state of Israel, and refuse to understand any other cultures or even politics. As a result it is constantly surprised as the natives run rings around it. American isn’t Rome or The British Empire it’s like the incompetent empires run by the Italians or Portuguese just on a bigger scale.

    The Somali pirates are only a problem because they are a seen as a challenge to the Empires authority. The actual shipping companies that are supposedly being plundered care so little about the reality of a few teenagers with rifles that they don’t bother do anything but fill in the insurance forms. But my god how dare the natives thumb their noses at the Empire.

    History tells us that Americans will never trade declining living standards, corruption and fear for the dream of empire. They will hang on to the bitter end. The rest of the world will move on.

    [CR: Thanks.

    The US Empire isn’t even a very good one

    True, and it’s hideously expensive. So what’s the point? If we had occupied Iraqi oil fields, run off the natives, established a secure enclave, and then started pumping crude into tankers bound for Houston, it would have been morally reprehensible but it would have made sense.

    Another thing that beats hell out of me.]

  4. Maxon 26 Apr 2009 at 9:59 am 4

    ” So what’s the point? (SNIP) it would have been morally reprehensible but it would have made sense.”

    “Another thing that beats hell out of me.”

    I agree Chet, it’s insane, on the face of it.
    It seems the US engages in conquest, to lose,
    with an outward facade of selfless sacrifice,
    to a lofty cause and ideal, everytime.

    That Dr. Richards, is the essience of the whole racket.

    The US could never be seen to overtly rape and
    plunder, even if at times coming perilously close,
    and inviting critisism from such from particuarly the
    far left.

    Taking an even tact, when thinking pepole analyse
    to deeper layers, we find that a large percentage benefit from gamefull employment, and so go along with it all,
    while another subset thrives and profits greatly
    from the folly.

    Sadly all this is at a cost and expense to the larger
    “National interests.”

    Yet so robust has been the US scociety,
    the economy and backed by the self delusional matras,
    it could withstand this systemic and perennial abuse.

    One must give credit to American ingenuity for
    skating that fine line, time after time, and for pulling
    back at the moment and brink of oblivion, as we witnessed
    with Vietnam, and the early 1970s resession.

    Hence; “‘Defence’ And ‘The National Interests'”

    Is an truely apt metaphor, on the deepest level.

    But, you already knew that.


  5. Gregon 27 Apr 2009 at 6:26 pm 5

    Why should we do anything about Somalia other than monitor it? Haven’t we been there before? Maybe the Egyptians should do something about them, they have a Suez interest. How about China or the Russians? They have trade interests too. The Saudis? How about NATO, oops we are a part of that. My take is that there could be strings being pulled here to try to suck us back in to Somalia. Bring in the aide and our troops so someone could profit (massive corruption). Pull us into another mess? As inhumane as it sounds, the Somalis have to take care of this mess themselves. It will happen someday. Any intervention will just delay that happening. Until then, we should arm our ships for self defense, quit allowing tourist cruises go by the coast, and get some good Intel on the ground to observe the Al Qaeda part. Other than that, don’t we have enough on our hands already? Too many sharks for it to be attractive real estate.